I’m sure you’ve noticed: The news has been overwhelming lately.
Another mass shooting. Another hate crime. A rape survivor at Stanford. A singer shot dead at a concert. Brock Turner. 250,000 orphans at risk in Mali. Millions of Syrian refugees. Racial violence. Gangs. ISIS. 45 million people enslaved in our world today.
Here, in our state of immobilization, in the wake of grief, in fear of responsibility, we are numb. We wonder what our world has come to. We ask ourselves: Where is justice? Where is sanity? Where is God?
We are not responsible for the world’s suffering—we are only responsible for our own choices and actions. But we can no longer hide from the ways our judgments and choices contribute to the world’s suffering.
We did not pull the trigger at the mass shooting. We do not endorse violence. But we silently reinforce aggression and hatred through our actions and reactions, our fears and bigotry, our cultural values and skewed demands of masculinity.
We did not sexually assault an unconscious young woman in a back alley. We do not endorse rape. But we don’t fully understand it, either. We are not Brock Turner, but we know what it’s like to blame the party for our bad choices, or the alcohol for our violence and vulgarity—or whatever scapegoat we find most useful.
We may not buy women’s bodies or consume pornography or engage in sex tourism. We don’t endorse sexual exploitation—and therefore, we believe human trafficking is caused by THEM not US. But our greed simply takes another form. We drink coffee, eat chocolate and wear clothes made by slaves. We ignore the migrant and foreign workers in our communities who are building our infrastructure, serving us meals, laboring in our factories—and we try not to wonder if they’re being treated well and paid fairly, if they’re being paid at all.
With news this heavy and the world as dark as it is, we’re all straining to breathe a sigh of relief, to live a little easier convinced we’re not part of the problem. The sickness “out there” in the world is a reflection of the sickness inside each of us. The mass shooting in Orlando, the sexual assault case at Stanford, the pervasiveness of human trafficking—it’s all a symptom of the deeper problems of our brokenness.
Humans are flawed and our values are distorted. Instead of loving people and using things, we use people and love things. The compilation of our lifestyles—our decisions and behaviors, our habits and sins, our beliefs and judgments—can cause inadvertent damage to ourselves and others. Our relationships are unhealthy. Systems are oppressive. Communities are fragmented.
No, we are not as innocent as we want to believe. But we’re not as helpless as we think we are, either.
We cannot completely excuse ourselves from the world’s brokenness, but we also cannot be consumed by the guilt and paralyzed by the shame that keeps us silent and stagnant.
We cannot carry the burdens of the world, but we all can do small things that are powerful when added together and sustained over time. We all have the capacity for compassion and gifts or resources we can use for good.
We cannot undo evil that has been done to us and to others. But we can engage in the intentional practice of deliberately focussing on the good—not to sugar-coat suffering or diminish injustice, but to intentionally invest our energy in healthy ways. We can be angry at evil and still living with hope. We can lament the bad while honoring the good at the same time. In this messy world of ours, precious little remains black and white—and we must learn to balance the inconsistencies and accept our humanness.
Of course, our instinct in times of chaos and despair is to feel overwhelmed and to demand answers: Where is justice? Where is sanity? Where is God? But perhaps the better question is: How do my own prejudices quietly fuel acts of hatred? In what ways do my lifestyle choices tread on the freedom and dignity of others? And how can I use my existing sphere of influence—my tools and knowledge, my passions and time—to invest in healing my community?
Yes, we are broken, but we are not powerless. In seasons of darkness, it’s OK to have moments of feeling small and overcome. Because it’s exactly in these moments that we’re inspired to lean into community. We’re emboldened to stop ruminating on what we can’t do and to focus on what we can. We’re prompted to turn our attention back to the One who created the world to be beautiful and just, and invites us to fulfill that mission—even if we don’t feel qualified.
In times like these, we’re reminded that “Emmanuel” does not mean God is only present to celebrate in our joys and victories, in our goodness and faithfulness and the times when we get it right. It means God grieves with us in our sorrows and failures, too. And I can’t think of a peace greater than that.